Manfred Hammes

Hammes Augenleiste
Manfred Hammes: Landscapes
Hubertus Butin, Bonn 1988 (translated by Albert Meiner)
Since 1987, Manfred Hammes has been working on a series of »Landscapes«, for the most part small-format egg-tempera paintings – in which, however, concept and idea are not identical, for these »Landscapes« are considerably more complex and meaningful than one is lead to assume by the straightforwardness of the title. A tectonic structure of geometric simplicity is laid down by two straight lines which cross each other at right angles in the lower right-hand (since 1989 left-hand) side of the picture. From this constructivist principle result four rectangular areas of varied size containing pictorial worlds which are at once autonomous and interrelated and which together create a structure full of tension.
The largest area is taken up by a visionary landscape which in all the paintings lies between abstraction and representationalism, between a non-objectivist intrinsic value and a discernible reference to the concrete. In a formal sense, the markedly subtle and painterly coloration is partly enriched through objets trouvés in collage style. Whether or not the landscape is a depiction of nature destroyed – a bleak wasteland – or of nature undamaged – an earthly paradise – is a question Manfred Hammes leaves open, so as to force the viewer to walk an interpretive tightrope.
Man does not appear in this landscape; rather, he remains outside it in his own pictorial area, an isolated, unnatural sphere of life. The shorthand figure does not stand for a specific individual, but, in its de-individualized, quasi-archetypal appearance and largely unspoilt simplicity, for modern man. Despite the separation between them, however, a formal relation exists between man and nature in almost every picture, for one of the figure’s outstretched arms projects into the pictorial area of the landscape. As with the landscape, the determination of a specific meaning is left to the viewer, for the artist refuses to show explicitly whether the figure's stance or gesture refers to man's yearning for his lost (but now re-attainable?) harmony with nature, or to his irresponsible and disastrous interference (in the truest sense of the world) in the ecological balance of nature.
The narrow field below the landscape is more often than not decorated with archaic signs or ornaments, prototypes of artistic expression. They contain abstract geometric as well as vegetable and anthropomorphic forms, recalling mythological times when man still found himself in a comprehensible and direct relation to nature. It is for this reason that Manfred Hammes refers to the past in his search for a positive future. He sees himself in the role of a mediator in this context who alters the viewer's awareness of his relation to nature and so self-consciously places his signature in its own small field.
In these paintings, Manfred Hammes has developed an original method of representation which is based on ambivalences or contrasts into a tense synthesis. He sets the rational-linear structure of the works against sensual pictorial visions, graphic linear elements against expansive pictorial elements, monochromic painting against subtle gradations in colour, the intrinsic value against the representational value of colour, brushed against scratched lines, flatness against depth. Different dimensions of time emerge simultaneously: the past (the signs and ornaments) is opposed to the present (the human figure, the signature) and to the future (the landscape).
In his »Landscapes« series, then, Manfred Hammes critically and convincingly makes the elementary and 'super-individual' question of the reality and quality of modern man's life his central theme, emphasizing in particular man's increasingly problematic relation to nature.

Hubertus Butin
Institute for Art History, University Bonn
(Translation by Albert Meiner)